Successive research reports have shown that access to health services for people with hearing loss, deafness and tinnitus is improving, but that there is still lots to be done.
In 2004 we published A Simple Cure which showed that 35% of people who are deaf or have a hearing loss had been left unclear about their condition because of communication problems with their GP or nurse.
In 2012 we published Access All Areas? A report into the experiences of people with hearing loss when accessing healthcare. This showed an improvement in patient experience. For example, in 2004, 24% of respondents had missed an appointment because of not being able to hear their name being called out – this reduced to 14% in 2012. And by 2012 the number of people unclear about their condition had reduced by 7%.
In Northern Ireland in 2010 we published Is It My Turn Yet?, in partnership with RNIB and BDA, to identify what accessibility arrangements had been put in place by GP practices and to how we could help GPs to improve access to their services.
In response to a request from GP practices for practical guidance we published Best Practice Guidance - creating accessible primary care services for people with sensory loss in 2014 in partnership with RNIB and the Health and Social Care Board. This guide was sent to every GP practice in Northern Ireland.
In 2017 we are planning to update our research on the experiences of people with deafness and hearing loss when accessing GP practices, to measure if our guidance has been implemented by GPs and if patients have benefited.
Around the UK
In England the Accessible Information Standard was introduced to law in 2016. It places an obligation on GP and NHS services to record the communication needs of patients, to share that information with other services, and to provide accessible communication methods.
In Wales The All Wales Standards for Accessible Communication and Information for People with Sensory Lossmake clear that people with sensory loss in Wales should be provided with appropriate support to contact services when they need to, communicate well during appointments and understand information they’re given.
In Scotland the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 requires local authorities, including Scotland’s NHS health boards, to publish BSL Action Plans by October 2018 and this may go some way to improving access to health services for sign language users.
Although the Disability Discrimination Act (NI) 1995 gives people with disabilities (including people who are deaf or who have a hearing loss) in Northern Ireland important rights when visiting the GP or other NHS services, and imposes a duty on GPs and other NHS services to make reasonable adjustments, access to GP practices is still a difficulty.
What needs to be done
- We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to introduce an Accessible Information Standard to Northern Ireland. It should ensure a consistent and specific approach to identifying, recording, flagging and sharing accessible information needs.
- Any Standard should be supported by a clear set of quality standards in the procurement and provision of sign language interpreters.
- GP and NHS services should ensure that procedures are in place to meet the communications needs of people with hearing loss, deafness and tinnitus and these are communicated to all staff.
- Staff working in health services should be provided with deaf awareness training.
How you can help
If you have personal experience of difficulties in accessing healthcare services we would love to hear from you.
You can also contact your local MLA to ask them to support our campaign for an Accessible Information Standard for Northern Ireland.
For further information on the Access to Health campaign, please contact:
NI Communications and Campaigns Manager
Telephone / textphone: 028 9023 9619